Reading the Signs (Team 29)

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Hi, this is Natasha Kurchenkova.

This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.

It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?

Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.

“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”

We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:

“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”

How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?

For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.

If you need a sign, this is it.

—Natasha and Team 29

* When I contacted Team 29 today, asking them for more details about the case in question, they replied that they would publish something about it after they had located the inmate in question. \\ TRR

Source: Team 29 weekly email newsletter, dated 7 March 2020. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

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